October is Depression Awareness Month. The World Health Organization reports that depression is a growing global concern that affects around 5% of the population. Depression touches the lives of most of us, whether directly or not, so boosting mental health and managing depression is at the forefront of many minds.
Practical solutions to managing depression and other mental health issues are at the heart of many discussions this time of year as the days get shorter and colder in the Northern Hemisphere. One mode of mental health management is pet ownership, specifically cats and dogs.
Pet Ownership and Mental Health
When asked, 86% of pet owners agreed that heir furry companions positively impacted their mental health. While some argue that cats or dogs are better at providing mental health benefits, both offer great benefits for slightly different reasons.
On the other hand, pets like fish, guinea pigs, and lizards are less likely to provide these mental health benefits that can help manage depression, anxiety, and other related issues.
Owner Insights on How Pets Impact Their Mental State
Pet owners cite several reasons their cat or dog at home positively impacts their mental health and well-being.
- 69% report reduced overall stress and anxiety
- 69% report the benefits of receiving unconditional support and love from their pets
- 69% report the companionship their pets provide is vital to mental health
- 66% report their pets provide a calming presence
Overall, while pets can be a source of stress due to health concerns, costs, and loss, pet owners still agreed the benefits they provide far outweigh any of these cons.
Cat vs. Dogs: Is There a Difference?
While dog and cat owners cited the benefits of pet ownership listed above, cat owners were more likely to agree with all of these perks. In contrast, dog owners were more likely to report their canine’s impact on their physical activity.
The intangible benefits of unconditional love and presence from a pet are hard to measure, but a 2023 study confirmed one of the primary reasons a pet can benefit an owner’s mental health is secondary to their effect on physical activity levels.
With exercise being an essential part of good health and hormonal balance, regular physical activity has proven positive for both physical and mental health. Since most dogs need daily time outside walking, playing, and burning their energy, they are great accountability partners for getting out of the house.
Ultimately, these insights demonstrate that cats and dogs benefit their owners for slightly different reasons. While dogs provide more concrete benefits, cats offer intangible qualities that leave their owners feeling calmer and less anxious.
Is Pet Ownership a Holistic Solution to Depression Management?
In addition to traditional Western management of depression with psychotherapy and medication, there are many holistic ways to manage the doldrums with the guidance of a healthcare professional.
These include exercise, meditation, changing sleep habits, adjusting dietary needs, and mindset work. Should pet ownership be another option in a patient’s toolbox for their mental health? Perhaps, but only if they can manage the responsibilities of caring for another living being.
If adopting a pet is a viable choice for enhancing someone’s quality of life, it can bring up questions: Is one dog or cat breed better? Is a cat or a dog better? That depends.
A dog may be the better option if being more physically active and energetic is a priority. In contrast, some who want an animal companion that requires less attention and offers unconditional love and support might find cats more suitable. It’s important to note that the right pet for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else.
When considering pet ownership, it’s best to start small with research into breed types and find a pet that best suits a person’s lifestyle and needs. Different breeds have different energy levels, requirements, and needs. With the right animal companion, anyone can enjoy the benefits of pet ownership while managing their depression and overall mental health.
Alternatives to Pet Ownership
If pet ownership isn’t a good choice due to income, space, or time-related limitations, there are other ways someone can benefit from being around animals. For example, volunteering at a shelter or participating in animal-assisted therapy are other ways to reap the rewards of pets without having one.
Pet Companionship Can Be Life Changing
The companionship of cats or dogs can offer comfort when needed most. They can also provide accountability and structure to lives in ways that can help someone stay on track with their mental health goals. Whether providing cuddles and unconditional love or taking their owners for walks to keep their bodies moving, cats and dogs can contribute significantly to a healthy lifestyle and better quality of life.